For anyone who has a loved one with type 1 diabetes, they know how scary it can be to witness a family member, close friend or significant other experience a hypoglycemic episode, otherwise known as a low blood sugar incident. TV personality and diabetes advocate, Maria Menounos knows this feeling all too well.
“My father was pronounced dead and hospitalized due to low blood sugar attacks [multiple times] throughout my life,” said Maria. “[My family and I] were all on guard and had him on constant watch. This remains his constant battle – to keep his sugar levels from dropping to dangerous lows.”
Growing up outside of Boston in Medford, MA, Maria and her family experienced the challenges of helping Maria’s father, Constantinos Menounos, manage his diabetes.
Constantinos was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost 50 years ago and learning how to alter his eating habits following his diagnosis was especially difficult for him as he is not a native English speaker. Language barriers coupled with his fear of diabetic complications led Constantinos to believe that the only way he could safely manage his diabetes was to follow a very strict diet. On this diet Cosntantinos consumed vegetables, some fruits and meats and excluded almost all carbs, which often led to dangerously low blood sugar levels.
“My Dad is a stubborn Greek and when he puts his mind to something, no one will change it,” explained Maria. “He decided he did not want to lose his sight, limbs or life so he gave up sugar and the high, unhealthy carb items like breads and pasta. He was hyper cautious to keep his sugar levels as low as possible. Unfortunately, at times he would go to the extreme.”
This lack of communication between Constantinos and his doctors highlights the need for culturally specific diabetes care that breaks down language barriers and provides dietary recommendations, which are aligned with specific cultures. After receiving the correct information and proper diabetes care, Constantinos successfully incorporated carbs and sugars back into his diet and lessened the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes.
Today, Maria describes her father as having “the body of a 22 year-old.” He is still able to manage his diabetes without any diabetic complications, and continues to work and maintain an active lifestyle.
The upside to living with someone with diabetes is that Maria and her family learned the importance of healthy eating and exercise firsthand. Maria still maintains these healthy habits to this day, which she chronicles in her book, The Everygirl’s Guide to Diet and Fitness.
“As far as my book goes, I based it entirely on my father, using him as the example for all of us to follow for long-term fitness and health. His disease got my family eating properly from childhood,” commented Maria. “Studies say that healthy eating habits instilled in childhood lead to healthy eating in adulthood. I am no contradiction and again I credit it all ironically to diabetes.”
Maria and her family remain optimistic about her father’s diabetes, using their experience to help educate and comfort other families dealing with diabetes.
“The positive spin and message to all [people with diabetes] and families is the disease does not have to destroy you,” she said. “In fact, in the same irony as my father’s case, it can enhance life quality for [people with the disease] and their entire families. I think this the best way [to approach] diabetes is to take the disease [head-on], rather than play or fall victim to it.”
Maria relies on her journey with her father to fuel her advocacy and charitable work. Like many others, Maria is eagerly waiting for new breakthroughs in diabetes treatments and cures, but in the meantime she is focusing on educating people and raising awareness about diabetes.
While Maria continues her diabetes advocacy work from Los Angeles, she appreciates the work that Joslin Diabetes Center spearheads in Boston.
“I love what Joslin has done and continues to do as much as I love Boston: the best food, sports and people in the world. Boston Strong!” she says.